Little Rock Look Back: Major Nicholas Peay

On April 28, 1784, in Virginia, future Little Rock Alderman (and acting Mayor) Major Nicholas Peay was born the eleventh of at least thirteen children.  (His gravestone lists a May date for his birth, but all other records indicate April 28, 1784.) A veteran of the War of 1812 and the Indian Wars, he later moved to Kentucky (where he met and married his wife, Juliet Neill, in 1814) before settling in Arkansas on September 18, 1825.  At the time, they were the ninth family to set up residence in Little Rock.

After arriving in Little Rock, he bought the Little Rock Tavern. This started a fifty year tradition of his family owning taverns and hotels in Little Rock. In 1828, he was appointed Assistant Postmaster of Little Rock.  From 1825 to 1831, Little Rock residents were allowed to elect five Trustees prior to the formal incorporation. Major Peay was one of those who served on the Board of Trustees.

He later served on the Little Rock City Council, and in 1839 served for seven months as Acting Mayor due to the prolonged absence of Mayor Jesse Brown.  In 1841, his friend Gen. Zachary Taylor, paid a visit to Little Rock and stayed with him on the General’s way to Fort Smith.

Nicholas and Juliet Peay had at least eleven children, though only five appeared to have lived until adulthood. One of those, Gordon Neill Peay, served as Little Rock’s 23rd Mayor from 1859 to 1861. Other descendants of Nicholas Peay who followed him into public service include his grandson Ashley Peay, who was an Alderman in the 1920s (son of John Coleman Peay) and great-great-grandson Joseph B. Hurst (a great-grandson of Mayor Peay), who was a City Director from 1967 to 1970. In addition, City Director Hurst’s daughter-in-law, Stacy Hurst served three terms on the City Board from 2003 to 2014; she is now Director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

Major Peay’s egg-nog recipe has been passed down for generations. It is the inspiration for the Historic Arkansas Museum yearly Nog-Off.  Retired HAM director Bill Worthen and his daughter are the sixth and seventh generation of the family to make Peay’s egg-nog.

Major Nicholas Peay is buried with his wife and many other family members in Mount Holly Cemetery.

The Smithsonian Institution records indicate they have an oil painting of Major Peay as well as of his wife. But there are conflicting records as to whether they have been lost or are in private collections.

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Little Rock Look Back: First meeting of Little Rock Board of Trustees

On Monday, January 2, 1826, Little Rock voters elected their first Board of Trustees. This five member governing body was authorized by the Arkansas General Assembly in October 1825.  The five men getting the most votes were Bernard Smith, Isaac Watkins, James C. Collins, Ezra Owens and Sam C. Roane.

The evening of the election, the Board of Trustees held their first meeting.  They chose Mr. Smith (a former US Congressman from New Jersey) as the president.  To serve as the clerk, the men selected Jesse Brown, who was Little Rock’s first school teacher.

In June 1826, Robert Crittenden was appointed to fill out the remainder of Mr. Owens’ term.  The latter had resigned, though media accounts do not indicate why.

Mr. Smith, whose job was as secretary to the governor of Arkansas, would serve on the Board through 1828.  Mr. Watkins served until his murder in December 1827.  Mr. Collins served in 1826 and again in 1828.  Mr. Roane only served in 1826.  Mr. Crittenden served a full term in 1827 and then again in 1830 and 1831.

The Little Rock Board of Trustees was disbanded with the January 1832 election of Little Rock’s first mayor and aldermen.

Little Rock Look Back: Nicholas Peay

On April 28, 1784, in Virginia, future Little Rock Alderman (and acting Mayor) Major Nicholas Peay was born the eleventh of at least thirteen children.  (His gravestone lists a May date for his birth, but all other records indicate April 28, 1784.) A veteran of the War of 1812 and the Indian Wars, he later moved to Kentucky (where he met and married his wife, Juliet Neill, in 1814) before settling in Arkansas on September 18, 1825.  At the time, they were the ninth family to set up residence in Little Rock.

After arriving in Little Rock, he bought the Little Rock Tavern. This started a fifty year tradition of his family owning taverns and hotels in Little Rock. In 1828, he was appointed Assistant Postmaster of Little Rock.  From 1825 to 1831, Little Rock residents were allowed to elect five Trustees prior to the formal incorporation. Major Peay was one of those who served on the Board of Trustees.

He later served on the Little Rock City Council, and in 1839 served for seven months as Acting Mayor due to the prolonged absence of Mayor Jesse Brown.  In 1841, his friend Gen. Zachary Taylor, paid a visit to Little Rock and stayed with him on the General’s way to Fort Smith.

Nicholas and Juliet Peay had at least eleven children, though only five appeared to have lived until adulthood. One of those, Gordon Neill Peay, served as Little Rock’s 23rd Mayor from 1859 to 1861. Other descendants of Nicholas Peay who followed him into public service include his grandson Ashley Peay, who was an Alderman in the 1920s (son of John Coleman Peay) and great-great-grandson Joseph B. Hurst (a great-grandson of Mayor Peay), who was a City Director from 1967 to 1970. In addition, City Director Hurst’s daughter-in-law, Stacy Hurst served three terms on the City Board from 2003 to 2014; she is now Director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

Major Peay’s egg-nog recipe has been passed down for generations. It is the inspiration for the Historic Arkansas Museum yearly Nog-Off.  This past year, museum director Bill Worthen and his daughter were the sixth and seventh generation of the family to make Peay’s egg-nog. The Worthens are descended from Mayor Peay’s son who was also named Gordon Neill Peay.

Major Nicholas Peay is buried with his wife and many other family members in Mount Holly Cemetery.

The Smithsonian Institution records indicate they have an oil painting of Major Peay as well as of his wife. But there are conflicting records as to whether they have been lost or are in private collections.

Turkey Day Football in LR – An Overview

thanks-grid-lrc-lrh102 years ago, Little Rock High School (then located on Scott Street) kicked off a 69-year tradition of playing football on Thanksgiving Day.  (Though the date of Thanksgiving floats anywhere from the 22nd to the 28th, Thanksgiving Day 1914 was on November 26.)

From 1914 until 1933, the Little Rock High School Tigers played a variety of different schools.  Then from 1934 until 1957, they played North Little Rock. From 1958 until 1982, the Little Rock Central Tigers took on the Warriors of Little Rock Hall.

Thanksgiving Day football was a tradition not just for high schools in Little Rock but also all levels throughout the state and country.  The Friday after Thanksgiving, newspapers carried stories and scores for professional, college and high school football.  It was probably the only day of the year to see all three levels of football covered in the paper, and often high school games received the most ink.  This mix of football continued for decades.  In 1969, there were four football games played in Pulaski County on Thanksgiving Day: Little Rock Hall vs. Little Rock Central, Little Rock Catholic vs. North Little Rock, Horace Mann vs. Scipio Jones, and the Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Texas Tech.

By the 1970s, both high school and college football games on Thanksgiving were on the wane.  While college games on Turkey Day have regained some popularity, they are nowhere near approaching the level they once had.  High school football on Thanksgiving disappeared in Arkansas following the 1982 game between Hall and Central.  That rivalry had been the final series on Turkey Day to still be played.

While they lasted, Thanksgiving Day high school football games were civic focal points. They were about bragging rights.  For students who had grown up attending the games, the chance to play or cheer in a Turkey Day classic was a rite of passage.  Alumni home from college or visiting the family for Thanksgiving would descend on the stadium ensuring the largest attendance of the season.

High school football on Thanksgiving Day in Little Rock tells the tale of not just football; it reflects changes in the city and society.  What started out as two small high schools from neighboring cities changed as both schools grew. The addition of a second Little Rock high school reflected the city’s growth.  (Indeed the 1954 Little Rock High School yearbook, in discussing the school’s new designation as Central High, mentions vaguely that the second high school would be built at some yet to be determined location in “west” Little Rock.)

The presence of segregated high schools in separate but unequal football rivalries (lasting nearly two decades after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision) is an indictment of an unjust parallel education system.  As Little Rock continued to grow and diversify, the two high schools playing on Thanksgiving were no longer always the predominant schools in football – or other activities.  With state championships once again on the line, the last few years of the Hall and Central Thanksgiving rivalry were, in a way, a return to the halcyon days of the early faceoffs (though this time, thankfully, with fully integrated teams). In addition to trading the top spots in football, the two schools were piling accolades. In fact, all three Little Rock public high schools had achieved a stasis that inadvertently rotated areas of excellence academically, athletically and artistically fairly equally among the three.

There were undercurrents at work that hinted at future instabilities to come.  Indeed by 1982, the same year of the final game, Little Rock had filed suit against the North Little Rock and the Pulaski County Special School Districts claiming the schools in those neighboring districts were siphoning off white students from the Little Rock schools. The ensuing realignment of schools and districts would probably have brought an end to Central vs. Hall games even if athletic reclassification had not.

Central is now much larger than Hall, Parkview is a magnet school, two formerly county high schools (and several elementary schools and junior highs) were brought into the LR school district in the late 1980s.  Where once the Little Rock high schools were roughly equal in enrollment, they now are so varied they play in three different classifications.

It is up to the alternative historians to envision what continued Turkey Day classics would have looked like after 1982. Little Rock has grown and diversified. There are six public high schools and five private high schools playing football within the Little Rock city limits each season. With all these competing interests it is unlikely to envision the same citywide level of interest in one football game.

But back in the day…

Little Rock Look Back: Jesse Brown

Map showing boundaries of original City of Little Rock

Map showing boundaries of original City of Little Rock

This is Teacher Appreciation Week.  In keeping with that, today highlights one of Little Rock’s first mayors, who was also a teacher.

Jesse Brown was Little Rock’s sixth mayor. He was also Little Rock’s first teacher. In the 1820s and 1830s he operated Little Rock’s first school.

On March 10, 1823, he founded the coeducational Little Rock Academy. One of his early pupils was C. P. Bertrand, stepson of Little Rock’s first physician, Dr. Matthew Cunningham.  Cunningham, Brown and Bertrand would each serve as Little Rock mayor prior to the Civil War.

By 1826, Brown had added a second employee.  In his advertisement in the Arkansas Gazette for March 7, 1826, he says: “Jesse Brown, principal of the Little Rock Academy, returns thanks for patronage during the past year and solicits its continuance.” His terms for spelling, reading, writing, and arithmetic were $24 per annum. (This is the equivalent of $556 in 2016–a bargain for private school!)  These branches, with geography, grammar, elocution, history, chronology, bookkeeping, and ”Italian method,” were taught for $36. Subscriptions less than a year were $1 per month extra. French was also offered.

In 1829, Brown started offering night classes. He continued to expand his offerings throughout the 1830s.  However, by 1837, he was forced to remind customers who were in arrears to pay up because he “could not live upon the wind.”

Brown served as mayor from January 1838 until January 1841.  He was out of Little Rock recovering from illness from April to November of 1839, but was subsequently elected to a third one-year term commencing in January 1840.

Little Rock Look Back: Nicholas Peay

LR sealOn April 28, 1784, in Virginia, future Little Rock Alderman (and acting Mayor) Major Nicholas Peay was born the eleventh of at least thirteen children.  (His gravestone lists a May date for his birth, but other records indicate April 28, 1784.) A veteran of the War of 1812 and the Indian Wars, he later moved to Kentucky (where he met and married his wife, Juliet Neill, in 1814) before settling in Arkansas on September 18, 1825.  At the time, they were the ninth family to set up residence in Little Rock.

After arriving in Little Rock, he bought the Little Rock Tavern. This started a fifty year tradition of his family owning taverns and hotels in Little Rock. In 1828, he was appointed Assistant Postmaster of Little Rock.  From 1825 to 1831, Little Rock residents were allowed to elect five Trustees prior to the formal incorporation. Major Peay was one of those who served on the Board of Trustees.

He later served on the Little Rock City Council, and in 1839 served for seven months as Acting Mayor due to the prolonged absence of Mayor Jesse Brown.  In 1841, his friend Gen. Zachary Taylor, paid a visit to Little Rock and stayed with him on the General’s way to Fort Smith.

Nicholas and Juliet Peay had at least eleven children, though only five appeared to have lived until adulthood. One of those, Gordon Neill Peay, served as Little Rock’s 23rd Mayor from 1859 to 1861. Other descendants of Nicholas Peay who followed him into public service include his grandson Ashley Peay, who was an Alderman in the 1920s (son of John Coleman Peay) and great-great-grandson Joseph B. Hurst (a great-grandson of Mayor Peay), who was a City Director from 1967 to 1970. In addition, City Director Hurst’s daughter-in-law, Stacy Hurst served three terms on the City Board from 2003 to 2014; she is now Director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

Major Peay’s egg-nog recipe has been passed down for generations. It is the inspiration for the Historic Arkansas Museum yearly Nog-Off.  This past year, museum director Bill Worthen and his daughter were the sixth and seventh generation of the family to make Peay’s egg-nog. The Worthens are descended from Mayor Peay’s son who was also named Gordon Neill Peay.

Major Nicholas Peay is buried with his wife and many other family members in Mount Holly Cemetery.

The Smithsonian Institution records indicate they have an oil painting of Major Peay as well as of his wife. But there are conflicting records as to whether they have been lost or are in private collections.

Little Rock Look Back: Mayor C. P. Bertrand

Bertra1On November 23, 1808, future Mayor Charles P. Bertrand was born in New York.  He was the son of Pierre and Eliza Wilson Bertrand; his father died in 1809 in an uprising in Haiti and his mother eventually remarried.  With her new husband, Dr. Matthew Cunningham, she and the family moved to Little Rock in 1820.

After apprenticing with family friend William Woodruff at the Arkansas Gazette, Bertrand opened the Arkansas Advocate newspaper.  He later studied law under Robert Crittenden and entered the legal profession.

In 1835-1836, he served as State Treasurer for the Arkansas Territory, and in 1836 as secretary for the first constitutional convention. He was a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives from 1840-1841 and 1844-1849.

Bertrand followed in his stepfather’s footsteps and became Mayor of Little Rock.  (Dr. Cunningham had been the first Little Rock Mayor in 1831.)  He was in office from January 1855 through January 1857, serving two one-year terms.  He later served on the City Council and filled in as acting mayor. (Another influence on his upbringing was studying under future Mayor Jesse Brown who taught at the first school in Little Rock.)

Bertrand, as acting mayor, was involved in the negotiations of the surrender of Little Rock to federal troops in 1863.  He also later corresponded with President Lincoln on behalf of Little Rock citizens.

Though a staunch Confederate, his good will toward the Union soldiers and federal officials is credited with helping to save Little Rock from the destruction which befell many other Southern cities.  He is also credited with delaying the start of the Civil War.  Prior to the attack on Fort Sumner, members of the Arkansas Militia were planning to attack the Federal Arsenal at Little Rock during the absence of Governor Rector.  This would have been viewed as an act of war.  Bertrand was able to dissuade them from the attack.  Had he been unsuccessful, the Civil War would have likely started in Arkansas instead of South Carolina.

He had put his considerable fortune into Confederate money during the war. At the Civil War’s conclusion, the family was financially ruined. Though they had vast land holdings, those would be sold off in parcels to pay for taxes.

Bertrand died August 27, 1865, shortly after the conclusion of the Civil War.  He, like his mother, step-father, and several other relatives, is buried in Mt. Holly Cemetery.